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Chocolate, Sex, and Passionate Indulgences

  1. A Contextual History: The Ancient Origins of Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac

Introduction

In class, we discussed the relationship between Valentine’s Day and chocolate.  Because it is a Victorian-created holiday that can seem to a skeptic more of a consumerist ploy than a celebration of love, one may argue that the importance placed upon Valentine’s Day is in our culture is inflated.  Sure, maybe Valentine’s Day is just a (highly-gendered and heteronormative) convention, but nobody can deny the centrality of chocolate in its celebration. Many foods are said to have aphrodisiac qualities, but chocolate is amongst the most renowned.  The passion elicited from its indulgence dates back centuries. The Maya considered cacao sacred, encouraging its consumption during highly emotional or spiritual events like marriage and fertility rituals as well as death rites. In more transgressive accounts, Aztec emperor Montezuma consumed a gluttonous amount of chocolate each day to boost his sexual stamina.  This essay serves to trace the entwinement of chocolate, sex, and passionate indulgences through the contemporary state of the cacao-chocolate industry while situating it in its appropriate historical context.

The ephemeral nature of cacao consumption’s association with aphrodisiac qualities divulges a corollary truth between ancient wisdom and modern science.  While historically chocolate has been taken advantage of in the name of its spiritual effects, science, commerce, and even art contemporarily reveal there is a passion to indulgence.  Whether it is eating chocolate or having sex, fleeting benevolence. Consistent consumption of both nurtures an honest, transgressive air of ambitious pursuit that allows one to stay in tune their desires, promoting health, general well-being, and growth.  If demonstrated truthfully, this post suggests indulgence should not be understood merely as a momentary transgression, but rather an honest, consistent truth that leads to health and progress.

2. Contemporary State of the Cacao-Chocolate Industry: Modern Marketing and Cognitive Science

Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine

Melanie King’s book Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate: How We Fell In Love With Caffeine explores the question of how contemporary culture and modern society became enamored with tea, coffee, and chocolate.  Broadly, she argues it has to do with their stimulative effects on dopamine. Specifically, King posits that drinking chocolate products benefits the consumers “sex life and physical appearance,” a wisdom that can be traced back through history.  The stimulation a consumer achieves increases their propensity to chace the transgressive desires weighing on their heart, promoting longevity and renewal.

Mood State Effects of Chocolate

Putting some science to Melanie King’s argument for ancient wisdom in the positive benefits of cacao consumption on our mood, the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychiatry conducted an academic review on the association of chocolate consumption with enjoyment and pleasure.  Historically, dating back to the Ancient Mesoamerican origins of cacao consumption, chocolate indulgence provokes a variety of mental, physical, and spiritual effects that bestow “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” properties. Specifically, the UNSW research team focused on the mood altering traits of chocolate.  Investigating chocolate’s psychoactive positionings, the team concluded: “chocolate can provide its own hedonistic reward by satisfying cravings but, when consumed as a comfort eating or emotional eating strategy, is more likely to be associated with prolongation rather than cessation of a dysphoric mood.” Thus, their research provides implications about the ephemeral, fleeting benefits derived from one’s chocolate indulgence.  This is not to say that chocolate consumption is malevolent or harmful, but rather that the endurance of its advantageous emotional effects requires habitual consistency.

Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function

Further, Psychology Today’s article “Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function” claims, “Aztec emperor Montezuma is reputed to have used chocolate in a manner akin to today’s Viagra pill.”  Nowadays, the aphrodisiac link between sex and chocolate is most visible around Valentine’s Day. Dr. Andrea Salonia, an Italian physician, piloted a research project that measured chocolate consumption against female sexual function and depression.  It was found that chocolate consumption increases the female propensity to achieve sexual satisfaction, positing a scientific legitimacy in the human inclination to sin and sin again consequently. The research team also found a correlation between age and scores on the Female Sexual Function Index. Younger women who consumed chocolate daily scored much higher, suggesting maturity impacts the desire to indulge transgressively.  

Sex, Chocolate, and Disability

The cultural perception that there is a transgressive nature to sex and chocolate consumption has influenced commerce, marketing, and media in various controversial ways.  In 2016, Mars-brand Maltesers ran a series of ads that featured disabled people discussing embarrassing intimacies while opening up over chocolate. The first ad featured a wheelchaired woman with cerebral palsy symbolically spilling a bag of Maltesers on the table as she describes an awkward sexual experience with her new boyfriend, implying her spastic disease caused a diuretic explosion during sex.  The risky ad provoked a highly controversial reception, polarizing audiences into camps of insensitivity and effervescence. Maltesers doubled-down, claiming lightheartedness and sense of humor are necessary forces of benevolence in a world of degradation, shame, and censorship. More importantly, these ads provoked public conversation about disability and suggested one ought to be optimistic about what defines their personhood.  

Much of debate surround Maltesers’ ads were concerned with “sensitivity and authenticity,” triggering empathetic ideas about vulnerability outside of oneself.  Remaining optimistic in ethos, a company representative stated, “Maltesers positions itself as a lighter way to enjoy chocolate and its ads encourage people to look on the light side of life. In three previous animated spots, comedians … relay awkward or embarrassing situations they’ve encountered, such as walking around a shop without realising you still have your umbrella up.”

Putting yourself in the shoes of the disabled, one must consider their perception of pity at odds with true equity; yet, the radical transparency of the Maltesers ads surely realized an air of bravery through creativity that encourages the disabled to exit their defensive comfort zones.  Further, Mars’ 2016 advertisements added visibility to the disabled by expanding their personal liberties through the proliferation of opportunities for employment and exposure. There is also an argument to be made about diversity. Rather than tokenism, a representative of Mars claimed, “we got better ideas by not just thinking about the white, middle-class, able-bodied family with two kids. Using a different lens has been a game changer for our creativity.”

3. Personal Analysis and Critique: Healthy Indulgences and Fleeting Flits

Beyond Veggies

Harvard Medical School published an article about the health benefits derived from unorthodox sources, such as chocolate and sex.  Typically considered a devious indulgence, the team wrote: “A steady stream of studies has won chocolate cardiovascular laurels by showing that it improves blood flow through arteries that supply the heart and the brain.”  Further, in 2008, researchers at Harvard found that “two weeks of enhanced chocolate intake quickened blood flow through the middle cerebral artery.” Additionally, Italian researchers found a feeble correlation between increased dark chocolate and reduced inflammation marked by the resultant low levels of C-reactive proteins.  However, this comes with a major caveat: the health benefits of one’s chocolate indulgence are best derived from the organic, raw, unprocessed type. Added sugars and other excessive processes only complicate the body’s ability to receive cacao’s naturally fleeting benefits. As it concerns sex, the article called it obvious that “sexual arousal and orgasm is a source of great pleasure and a sense of well-being,” noting that, “even after the immediate glow fades, there may be residual health benefits.”  While there are rare cases of sex causing heart attacks particularly in men, the effects of sexual activity regardless of gender are found to be overwhelmingly ameliorating. These benefits range from reducing the intensity of headaches and stress to the general wellness of cardiovascular and immune systems. When you put the two together, the consumption of raw chocolate and sex, there is a benevolent implication for overall health. But, it is important to tune into the fleeting nature of these benefits; to achieve a healthy balance, consistency is key.

Love and Chocolate

Love, ideally, is passionate, consistent, and true.  Due to legends involving Montezuma, Don Juan, and even Casanova himself, chocolate and love have been mythically inseparable for centuries.  The presupposition is that chocolate inspires passion. Whether in terms of sex, love, or both, it has been found that chocolate contains aphrodisiac powers of mimicry that can illude the passionate feelings of being in love.  Janet Vine of Aphrodite Chocolates reported that “chocolate contains substances called phenylethylamine and seratonin, both of which are mood lifting agents found naturally in the human brain. They are released into the nervous system by the brain when we are happy and when we are experiencing feelings of love, passion or lust. This causes rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure and increasing heart rate, inducing those feelings of well being, bordering on euphoria usually associated with being in love.”  When consumed, chocolate releases these agents into the system and boosts a certain euphoric stamina that earns its reputation as an aphrodisiac instigator of passionate action.

Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate

Love, to me, is also something you must cultivate and actively work toward.  The Grow Network video “Growing The Ultimate Aphrodisiac: Chocolate” above discusses the modern cultivation of Theobroma cacao trees.  While it is imperative the leaves stay moist, they don’t retain all the water. It is a tropical plant that, in nature, grow as an understory, shaded by other trees so they don’t get the full brunt of tropical sun.  Today, they can be grown in personal backyards or greenhouses, ideally temperature-controlled around 60 degrees. They start from seeds, but reach 5 or 6 feet in about three years when grown in rich organic soil. Once mature, pruning begins; they flower and fruit all year long.  

Chocolate Rain

Artistically too, modern culture connects the indulgence of chocolate and self-permitted growth.  In 2007, YouTuber Tay Zonday went viral with his song “Chocolate Rain.”

Culturally, it was received as a funny video, but deserves to be recognized for its profound social commentary.  Chocolate rain is a metaphor for the tears of African Americans operating in a system of racism. In a way that tugs at the heartstrings, Tay Zonday sings of the pain caused by institutional lies and deceit.  He notes the inescapability of being wronged, for instance, when he sings “the bell curve blames the baby’s DNA,” referencing Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which argues for the innate intellectual superiority of white men.  It is again an interesting dichotomy between chocolate skin and tears of water.  The emotional act of crying, expressing vulnerability, allows renewal upon a stained existence of unjustified inferiority.  Crying, too, can be a passionate indulgence–a letting go.

Like Water for Chocolate

In other artistic representation of passion and chocolate, it is imperative to reference Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which is one of my favorite all time works of literature.  Symbolically, the title itself poses water’s purity against chocolate’s mercy; water is eternal like love, while mercy is fleeting like lust:

“it seemed Pedro’s rage dominated the thoughts and actions of everyone in the house. Tita was literally ‘like water for chocolate’—she was on the verge of boiling over.”

The real passion in Like Water for Chocolate exists between Pedro and Tita, star-crossed forbidden lovers. Esquivel’s style of prose, magical realism, portrays the otherworldliness of true love; it is a nature that defies reality and works in an irrational way. The quote above speaks to Tita’s divine feminity, and her arousal, showing her readiness to transgress and receive Pedro’s divine masculinity–she ultimately runs toward him. The novel positions true love as a life-giving force, requiring a nurturing attitude toward spiritual honesty, which brings happiness to pain. The story shows the ways in which truth, to oneself, is freedom.  It is an interesting act of balancing that operates over the twelve months of the book, revealing true love, water, is capable to remedy intermittent affairs and external romance, chocolate. It took a long time for Pedro and Tita to actively run toward the cultivation of a serious relationship. In the final scenes of the book, they let go of their fearful resistance:

“Little by little her vision began to brighten until the tunnel again appeared before her eyes. There at its entrance was the luminous figure of Pedro waiting for her. Tita did not hesitate. She let herself go to the encounter, and they wrapped each other in a long embrace; again experiencing an amorous climax, they left together for the lost Eden. Never again would they be apart.”

Thus, true love is proven an enduring force, but it requires the crossing of boundaries and ultimate indulgence in true passion.  Water’s solvent powers allow the indulgence of soluble chocolate to make for a greater drink, which, as we’ve learned in class, produces “stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic, and antidepressant” effects that renew the soul.

Bibliography

“Beyond Veggies: The Health Benefits of Chocolate, Sex, Sleep and Social Networks, from the Harvard Health Letter.” Harvard Health Publishing. April 2009. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/beyond-veggies-the-health-benefits-of-chocolate-sex-sleep-and-social-networks.

Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. London: Black Swan, 1998.

Goldstein, Kay. “Love and Chocolate.” HuffPost. May 25, 2011. Accessed May 04, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/love-and-chocolate_n_165040.

Hagi, Sarah. “10 Years Later, ‘Chocolate Rain’ Is Still the Wokest Song Ever.” Vice. April 25, 2017. Accessed May 05, 2019. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/qkqewv/10-years-later-chocolate-rain-is-more-woke-than-ever.

Kiefer, Brittaney. “Sex, Chocolate and Disability.” Campaign (Sep 09, 2016): 14. http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1825218631?accountid=11311.

King, Melanie. Tea, Coffee & Chocolate: How We Fell in Love with Caffeine. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015.

Parker, Gordon, Parker, Isabella, and Brotchie, Heather. “Mood State Effects of Chocolate.” Journal of Affective Disorders 92, no. 2 (2006): 149-59.

Saad, Gad. “Chocolate Consumption and Women’s Sexual Function.” Psychology Today. Accessed May 03, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201002/chocolate-consumption-and-women-s-sexual-function

An Extraordinary Food, An Extraordinary Woman: Maria Sibylla Merian and Cacao

Almost everybody loves chocolate, and if they don’t love it, chances are they have tasted it at some point in their lives. It is no challenge to find chocolate, and most people encounter chocolate on a daily basis: staring at them from its staple position next to the cash register at their favorite store, featured on the desert menu at the restaurant they go to for dinner, or melting over itself on a TV commercial. But what most people don’t know about the delicious brown chocolate they see in bar or fondue form, is that is comes from the seeds of a fruit tree (and that the fruit itself is secretly delicious). This ignorance is due to the fact that most of the people eating chocolate live in the Northern Hemisphere, in places with what Kristy Leissle calls “mature” chocolate markets (19). These are places whose climates cannot grow a cacao tree. But this does not stop many from claiming to be experts on chocolate, on why you should enjoy milk chocolate to treat yourself after a long day or dark chocolate on date night. These people are what I like to call armchair experts, or people who are very far removed from the origins of the things they seem to know so much about.

Graphic visualizing the relative production and consumption patterns of cacao products.

When it comes to the history of chocolate, Europeans have filled this same mold since its introduction to the continent when it reached Spain in the 16th century. As chocolate became a popular food item throughout Europe, the people enjoying the products from cacao knew little to nothing about the fruit tree from which it came in classic imperial fashion. As chocolate spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula in the first half of the 17th century, it became known as a new staple of elite Spanish culture. In 1701 a traveler from England published his “Choice Remarks” from his time in Spain, and includes an account of how Spaniards made their chocolate (Coe 133-134). The starting product in his account is “cacao nuts,” which is how the product arrived in Spain. Because the cacao seeds were imported after being processed in the New World, Europeans had no idea what the starting product looked like.

A photo of Maria Sibylla Merian was a sucessful botanist, artist, and entomologist.

This changed when Maria Sibylla Merian published a book with illustrations of the Flora and Fauna from the New World. In this publication, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensuim, she describes how she had been concerned with the study of insects from her youth onward. While she was living in Holland she “saw with wonderment the beautiful creatures brought back from the East and West Indies,” but was unable to see “their origins and subsequent development” (Merian 22). Merian was concerned with her role as an armchair expert, and took action to address it, travelling with her young daughter to Surinam to “carry out more precise investigations.” She produced the illustration of cacao seen below as the habitat of the caterpillar she was interested in. The image shows the full lifecycle of the insect, and she also depicted the various stages of growth for the cacao pods to mirror that of the caterpillar.

Branch of Cacao, Plate 26, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, 1705

When her work was published, it was the first time many Europeans could see what the plant that produced the cacao beans that magically arrived on ships actually looked like. Even though she was focusing on the insects—not plants and foods—of the New World, her ability to capture the magnificent nature of the cacao pod allowed consumers to be a little more connected to the food they were enjoying. Her work was also used by others who had not seen the tree with their own eyes in their writings, the most famous is Carl Linnaeus, who looked to her work while creating what we know as modern taxonomy.

Through taking a daring risk and traveling across the ocean with her daughter to an unknown land at the age of 52, she produced work that helped those less brave understand the origins of chocolate. Armchair experts all over Europe and the developed world were able to look to her illustrations to increase their knowledge. Next time you are enjoying a chocolate bar, or suggesting a dessert with hot fudge, think of where the cacao that went into it came from. Think of how Maria allowed people all over the world to do this in the 18th century with her own bravery and hard work. And finally, strive to take steps in your own life that can connect you more meaningfully with products that you love. Having hands on experience is so much more valuable than making, or not making, assumptions from your comfortable throne.

References:

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Merian, Maria Sibylla, and Sarah O’brien-Twohig. “From Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium ( Or, Transformations of Surinamese Insects ).” Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, vol. 45, no. 1, 2012, pp. 21–28.

Images:

Image 1. Cocoa production and consumption. International Cocoa Organization/ FOuntain, A.C. and Hütz-Adams, F. (2018) Cocoa Barometer 2018. Adopted from Raconteur: https://www.raconteur.net/business-innovation/child-labour-cocoa-production

Image 2. Credit Jacob Houbraken, after Georg Gsell, via Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, Amsterdam 1705, The Hague, National Library of the Netherlands. Adopted from New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/science/maria-sibylla-merian-metamorphosis-insectorum-surinamensium.html

Image 3. Maria Sibylla Merian, Branch of Cacao, Plate 26, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, 1705.

The Legendary Cacao: Ancient Mayan Religion and the “Food of the Gods”

The global importance of cacao today is rooted in a widespread love of chocolate. The chocolate industry is one that is lucrative yet exploitive, enticing but oppressive—yet all based on the versatile fruit cacao. Cacao, named the “food of the gods” (theobroma cacao) by Carl Linnaeus, gleans its importance today from its role in the chocolate industry, but in the ancient Maya civilization cacao’s significance was as much religious as it was dietary (Luna 87). This post will explore artifacts from the classical period of the Mayan civilization (500-800 CE) and evidence of cacao’s influential spiritual significance. The ancient artifacts explored showcase cacao’s intimate relationship with the human origin story of the ancient Maya. These spiritual beliefs laid the foundation for the important role cacao would play in Mayan civilization from a social, religious, and alimentary perspective.

Cacao and the Origin of Life

As  Maya hieroglyphic specialist Gabrielle Vail explains, the role of cacao was grounded in an ancient history that traced back to the creation of humanity.  According to the Popol Vuh, and ancient Mayan epic, cacao is one of the “precious substances”, along with corn, that poured from the “Sustenance Mountain” to ultimately create humanity (Vail 4). Before cacao catalyzed the creation of human beings, it belonged to the realm of the Underworld lords, where it “grew from the body of the sacrificed god of maize, who was defeated by the lords of the Underworld in an earlier era” (Vail 4). Later the god of maize would be resurrected by his sons the Hero Twins, who overcame the gods of the Underworld, ushering in the advent of human life (Vail 4).

 The Maize God in the Sustenance Mountain

The work of historian Simon Martin provides great insight on the role of cacao in Classical Mayan religion. The image below displays a black ware vase and Martin’s sketch of the artifact. Known as the Berlin vase, it depicts what Martin calls the “transubstantiation of man, maize, and cacao” (156). Produced in the Early Classic period, the artifact illustrates the mythological tale of cacao’s divine role. The vase depicts the death and transformation of the maize god, and the new lord who would follow in his footsteps (Martin 157). The lord who continues in the maize god’s steps is represented by the middle tree, which sprouts two cacao pods. The corpse of the maize god, reduced to a skeleton, can be seen at the base of the image.

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Simon Martin, Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion, University Press of Florida, 2009, p. 158.

The Maize God as a Cacao Tree

                  The image below is from a small stone bowl from the Early Classic era of Mayan civilization (250-600 CE). Martin analyzes the relationship between the artistic imagery and hieroglyphic text in this piece. Per Martin, the ripe cacao pods that adorn the man’s limbs and the “wavy wood motifs” which decorate his skin, indicate that this artifact depicts an anthropomorphic cacao tree (155). Although this deity has been dubbed a ‘Cacao God’ Martin argues that references to cacao in the image instead depict the Maize God as “the embodiment of a cacao tree” (155-156). Martin substantiates this conclusion through the translation of the hieroglyphs, which roughly translate to “Maize Tree God” (156). This combination of cacao imagery and maize deity inscription led Martin, like Vail, to the sixteenth-century K’iche’ Maya epic, the Popul Vuh,  a mythological tale in which both the artifact’s text and depiction make sense.

 

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Simon Martin, Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion, University Press of Florida, 2009, p. 155.

 

The Maize God as a World Tree

This image below is Simon Martin’s sketch of the lid of a Late Classic period ceramic censer which depicts an arched maize god with a cacao pod in his headdress (Martin 167). The artifact depicts the maize god in an inverted posture bearing a cacao pod. The depiction of the god is reminiscent of the idea of World Trees, which were often depicted with inverted postures (see the inverted crocodilian tree below). The artifact continues in line with the Popul Vuh, with the maize god now appearing as a World Tree. World Trees are a vital concept with ancient Mayan lore. According to the colonial era Chilam Bam documents of Yucutan, world trees helped define the limits of the cosmos and the cardinal directions (Martin 165). The depiction of the maize god as a World Tree followed his death and consequent rebirth as such a tree.

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Simon Martin, Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion, University Press of Florida, 2009, p. 167.

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Simon Martin, Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion, University Press of
Florida, 2009, p. 159.

The artifacts explored demonstrate the high value attributed to cacao within the religion of the ancient Mayan civilization. Cacao was revered on a cosmic and existential level, central to the organization of the universe and the creation of humanity. Anahi Luna suggests another spiritual connection the Maya had to cacao, by highlighting their affinity for plants with anthropomorphic structures. This idea can explain the sacred nature of both cacao and corn within the culture, both of which possess an orderly arrangement of seeds (Luna 85). The prevalence of cacao within Mayan spirituality would continue, allowing cacao to play an important role cacao in rituals, offerings, wedding ceremonies, and eventually be used as currency (Vail 5-6).

 

Works Cited

           Grivetti, Louis Evan, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture, and
Heritage. Wiley, 2009.
            Luna, Anahi. “Chocolate III: Ritual, Art, and Memory.” Artes De Mexico, no. 110,
June 2013, pp. 72–96. JSTOR [JSTOR], http://www.jstor.org/stable/24318995.
           Martin, Simon. “Cacao in Ancient Maya Religion.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a
Cultural History of Cacao, by Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase, University Press of
Florida, 2009, pp. 154–183.

 

Cacao and its Ancient Literary Significance

Cacao seeds, the source of chocolate, don’t often figure as a divine substance in the modern word. However, cacao holds ancient significance as food of the Gods for the Mayan. The world of the Ancient Maya was in many ways built on chocolate. Today, many understand that chocolate was a drink for kings and nobles. There are dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars that depict chocolate as part of a ritual or feast (Presilla 12). Indeed, the Maya incorporated chocolate into their lives daily. Furthermore, they were among the first people to uncover the intricate process of creating and refining cacao seeds into chocolate drink. However, cacao operated as much more than just a food source; the Mayans used it as currency and wrote it into their creation myth. The Popol Vuh and the Dresden Codex offer a window into the ancient significance of cacao, connecting it to cultural identity. The act of processing  cacao beans, roasting and grinding them, is not only a cooking process but also deeply connected to a symbol of re-birth and power, due to its framing within a creation epic. Cacao is thus a spiritual food deeply connected to the identity of the Maya.

 

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Image: ancientamerica.org

Cacao’s origins begin with the Mayan civilization and the creation of chocolate beverages. According to Maricel E. Presilla, the Maya “consumed the pulp itself and juice made from the cacao fruit pulp (Presilla 12). Additionally, inscriptions from drinking vessels outline a clear culture of drinking cacao, as the Mayans used terminology such as ‘tree-fresh cacao’ and ‘green cacao’ in order to describe certain tastes or preferences (Presilla 12). Historians have uncovered many vases and vessels, such as a painted pottery jar from a tomb at Río Azul, Guatemala. The vessel depicts a chocolate drinking being made and further shows the process of pouring the substance from one vessel into another “to raise the foam” (Coe 48). Thus, artifacts reveal the intricate care and use of chocolate; the Mayans were so particular about their chocolate routine that even specific moments in the process feature in art.

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Image: mexicolore.co.uk

In addition to the clear culture of cacao consummation, cacao plays an instrumental within the Maya creation story. The story centers on the journey of the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque in a world that precedes the present. Their father, Hun Hunahpu was killed in Xibalba (the underworld) after he and his brother lost to the Lords of the Death in a ball game (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). Hun Hunahpu’s head is placed in a barren tree which magically begins to bear new fruit. According to Michael Grofe, this tree is depicted as a cacao tree, the beans of which make the chocolate drink that the Mayans enjoyed. Ultimately, the Hero Twins fall into a trap from the Lords of the Death who trick them into jumping into fire; they are burned and the Lords dump their bodies into the river. However, the Twins come back within five days as fish. They defeat death and bring about creation (Grofe). Thus, within the story is also the story of cacao. Like the twins returning to Xibalba, chocolate comes from beans which is roasted, refined, and poured into water, only to create something completely new.

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Image: mexicolore.co.uk

The Maya word “kakaw” is spelled with two fish glyphs, further emphasizing the connection between the cacao process and the magical story of the Hero Twins (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). According to the scholar Michael J. Grofe, in the “the famous Rio Azul cacao pot, we find both the two ‘ka’ glyphs together with the reduplication symbol, as well as the final syllable ‘wa’, spelling ‘kakaw’. It therefore seems likely that the story of the Hero Twins transforming into ‘two fish’ derives from a pun on the word ‘kakaw’” (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). Grofe explains the sacrifice of the Twins as parallel to “cacao processing: entrance into the underworld (burial, fermentation), burning (roasting), grinding of their bones on a metate, and pouring them into water” (Grofe “Recipe” 1). Ultimately, Cacao, through symbolic and mythological writing thus serves as a powerful representation of re-birth, underscoring the cultural significance of cacao to the Maya who used it regularly.

The Dresden Codex further illuminates the significance of cacao in literary Mayan culture. The Codex is a “folding-screen book” and in several sections “gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe 41). In addition, the Dresden Codex specifically connects gods to cacao; according to Sophie and Michael Coe, “the Opossum God travels a sacred road to the edge of the town carrying the Rain God on his back, while the associated text tells us that ‘cacao is his food [kakaw u hanahl]’” (Coe 42). The Mayan Gods, as depicted in the Dresden Codex, have a clear reverential relationship to cacao. Ultimately, cacao seeds are not merely food, but a divine life source, and connected to the what it means to be Mayan.

Image Sources:

  1. Vessel and Popol Vuh page: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-use-among-the-prehispanic-maya
  2. Map: http://www.ancientamerica.org/?p=40

Works cited:

  1. Coe, Michael D. True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.
  2. Grofe, Michael J. “The Recipe for Rebirth: Cacao as Fish in the Mythology and Symbolism of the Ancient Maya.” Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, 15 Apr. 2009, http://www.famsi.org/research/grofe/GrofeRecipeForRebirth.pdf.
  3. Grofe, Michael J. “Xibalba: About.” Xibalba Cacao, Michael Grofe, http://www.xibalbacacao.com/index.htm.
  4.  Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Let Us Raise a Vessel to Cacao… Mayan Style!

Do you remember the last time you had a cup of hot chocolate? Was it served in a mug, topped with whipped cream? Or maybe you sipped it from a to-go cup from your favorite drive-thru restaurant. Most of the time we don’t fuss with what we’re drinking our hot chocolate from because we’re too busy enjoying the aroma and experience this time honored beverage provides us. Yet, ancient cultures, alike the Mayans, respected their cacao drinking methods and admired the cup they drank from just as much as they prized the drink itself. In many cases, cacao wouldn’t have been drunk if it wasn’t out of an artistically treasured and symbolized vessel… a far cry from how we view and present our version of hot chocolate today. Nevertheless, this customary beverage and the material in which it was once presented in was systematically ritualized throughout the ancient Classic Maya culture, proving a frothy cup of cacao was more than just something to cheers with.

The Classic Maya period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.) was considered to be the most influential and profound stage of the ancient Mayan civilization. Fabulous accomplishments, such as towering pyramids and vast palaces throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, beautifully decorated ceramics, and a distinguishable writing system flourished during this time. This was also a time when the Maya elite prospered, and their admiration for the finer things in life influenced their daily lives and dietary intake, ritualizing items such as cacao and the vessels they were ingested from. David Stuart, an archaeologist and epigrapher who specializes in Mesoamerican cultures, describes in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, the ways in which the Maya civilization upheld the role of cacao within their society. Stuart suggests, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate” (Stuart 184).

Around the same time those descriptive discoveries were uncovered, much excitement arose when two vessels were found in Guatemala containing chemical remains of cacao (Theobromine), a study that was performed by W. Jeffery Hurst, a chemist at the Hershey Foods Technical Center (Carla D. Martin, Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods,” January 31, 2018). By identifying the Maya word and glyph for cacao (ka-ka-wa), including the remains of Theobromine, archaeologists soon realized the extensive amount of Maya vessels which were artistically depicted with the kakaw glyph, symbolizing the importance of cacao within their culture, alongside the vessels in which they were consumed from (Stuart 184). In most early cases, a vessel that depicted the kakaw glyph was considered to be apart of a Maya elites collection, illustrating the consumption of cacao was reserved for those of importance within the community.

The Kakaw Glyph
Figure 1. The kakaw glyph (ka-ka-wa) in the Dresden Codex. a. The individual syllables of ka-ka-wa. b. The representation of the God of Death holding an offering of a bowl of cacao. Drawings by Carlos Villacorta from the Dresden Codex (1976).

Maricel E. Presilla, a cultural historian, chef, and author of the book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, reviews the ways in which the kakaw glyph was depicted on Maya pots and drinking vessels, and goes on to say, “Dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars, included along with other furnishings in burial chambers, depict chocolate as a crucial, central element of opulent feasts” (Presilla 12). Archaeologists have also come to believe that the vessel in which the cacao drink was drunk from had different levels of significance and cultural value, through the means of the artwork depicted on the cup and the individuals utilizing this piece of material culture (Presilla 12). Realizations as such have contributed to many other professionals from a plethora of academic fields, such as anthropologists and art curators, into the mix, creating a vast amount of research conducted around this specific topic. Dr. Dorie Reents-Budet, an Art Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, describes the functionality of these impressive vessels in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, and considers these vessels, “Function as containers for edibles and also as portable props whose myths-political imagery lent power and prestige to their owners and the event during which they were used” (Reents-Budet 210).

As a result, these elaborate cacao drinking vessels served up a frothy-drink of dualism between the vessel itself and the individual enjoying this influential beverage. Illustrations of exclusive banquets held by the Maya elite were plentiful, and according to Reents-Budet, these elite banquets which included fantastic kakaw serving vessels, “Transcended their primary function as food service wares and were transformed into indispensable status markers and essential gifts; that is, they became social currency” (Reents-Budet 213). The aftereffect of these frequent banquets lead to those creative kakaw drinking vessels to be perceived as social currency and a higher status, and soon after, production of cacao drinking vessels by “highly trained artisans and renewed painters” (Reents-Budet 214) was off and running.

A Late Classic Maya Vase
Figure 2. A Late Classic Maya period polychrome vase for serving chocolate beverages and giving as gifts during elite feasts. Collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K2800).

As a result of this newfound kakaw drinking vessel popularity, the Maya civilization never looked back, and the ideals around this foamy, ritualized beverage flourished for the rest of their reign. Through mysterious circumstances, the decline of the Maya culture happened sometime between the late eighth and ninth century, creating a sense of wonder around this distinguished ancient civilization. While we may never know what truly happened to the Mayans and their artistic culture, the remnants of their treasured vessels and love for cacao has overcome their deterioration, and continues to thrive in our modern day society through academic means and pure curiosity for what was once a fascinating and complex society.

Depiction of a Cacao Beverage Being Frothed
Figure 3. Classic Maya period depicting the aerating of a kakaw beverage by pouring the liquid from one jar to another placed on the floor. Collections from the Princeton Art Museum (acc. no. 75-17, the Hans and Dorthy Widenmann Foundation). Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K511).

References Cited:

Martin, Carla D. Mesoamerica and the “food gods.” Harvard University, Jan. 2018, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XF-lM9Z9iks0cVhUFRJ1QWBokKTRrdvZISwAJVSe_Ag/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_2_18

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 202-223.

Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 184-201.

Dumbledore Loves Chocolate
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.

 

CVS, Cardullo’s, and Their Consumers

We often see varieties of chocolate neatly arranged in so many stores, and the display is so tempting for customers walking by. Every shopping trip to a convenience or drug store is the same – make a rewarding selection between mainstream (and sometimes exotic) chocolate products. The tastings were set up in a way to acquire as much information as possible. The samples I acquired from CVS were: Ferrero Rocher hazelnut truffles (Italian), Hershey’s milk chocolate (American), Cadbury milk chocolate (English), Toblerone milk chocolate with nougat (Swiss), and Brookside dark chocolate with blueberries and almonds (American). The samples I acquired from Cardullo’s were: Niederegger’s Chocolate with marzipan (German), Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows (French), Chuao Milk chocolate with potato chips (American/Venezuelan based), Vivra 65% dark with candied violets (American), and Taza 50% dark chocolate with guajillo chili. I recruited six tasters, and one taster was unable to try the dark chocolate samples, because dark chocolate disagrees with him. I expected that the tasters I shared various chocolate samples with would prefer more generic and familiar brands, such as the brands offered by CVS. However, by analyzing the results of my research done on various flavors of chocolate, it is apparent that my tasters generally preferred the less common chocolate bars without realizing it. This suggests that people do not put as much thought into their chocolate preferences as they really should be.

When organizing tastings for my research, I tried to get as many tasters as possible to taste my CVS and Cardullo’s products by themselves. There ended up being two groups of two, and two lone tasters. I wanted each person’s response to influence another person’s response as little as possible. Furthermore, none of the tasters were enrolled in Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. The students of the class now have an above average level of training for identifying specific tastes and smells in the chocolate, so I decided to test the abilities of non-chocolate scholars. I must admit that the whole tasting set-up was done by having in the back of my mind Barb Stuckey’s self-observation of her tasting skill after spending time working for the Mattson company. Barb excitedly recalls her “newfound skill” explaining that she “could take one bite of a food, consider it for a millisecond, and know exactly what it was missing that would give it an optimal taste (Stuckey 3)”. However, I was delighted to hear my tasters use descriptions for the samples, such as: dry, “varied texture”, “pop rock texture”, generic, “dull ‘thud’ sound”, sandy, “old book taste”, chalky, and/or matte colored.

The chocolate samples came from two different stores: CVS, and Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, both in Harvard Square in Cambridge. Both stores are conveniently located in an area filled with people, some of whom may be hungry for a chocolate snack. Cardullo’s and CVS have their similarities, including the fact that they have their specific chocolate-seeking audiences. However, there is a difference between the chocolate-seeking audiences of Cardullo’s and CVS. Cardullo’s targets consumers of European origin and consumers with an interest in European culture, while CVS targets consumers that are not extremely fussy, and less willing to spend more for chocolate that would satisfy their cravings just as effectively. On a side note: the cost for all of the products between CVS and Cardullo’s totaled $46.34.

CVS’s chocolate is meant to “cater” to the general public. The store manager of the CVS location himself explained the ways in which the companies featured in the store cater to the general public. The confections sold at CVS are internationally recognized American and European brands whose confectionery styles do well with their plain chocolate, but also with commonly added flavors (some additional flavors include: caramel, nougat, nuts, and fruit). Hershey’s is a quintessential product at CVS, and must maintain their consumer loyalty with recognizable packaging, as well as producing creative ideas. For example, Hershey’s has designed resealable packaging to give their consumers a choice to eat some chocolate now and save the rest for later. A better alternative, rather than the consumer being forced to eat the entire product once it has been opened. Chocolate investigator, Kristy Leissle, begins her journal with, “Consider a hershey’s (sic) kiss. At once minimalist and iconic, the twist of silver foil sends a familiar flavor message to the brain, while the wrapper imparts nothing substantial about the chocolate (Leissle 22)”. When we see a chocolate product that is familiar to us, its iconic and memorable packaging prompts us to remember that what the product is. We also can trust familiar looking products to taste delicious if we decide to purchase them, rather than us risking the possibility of feeling like our money has been wasted on a bad tasting product.

Labels
Here is a selection of the most common chocolate products that we see for sale. The labels include the company name (i.e. Hershey), or a familiar product from Hershey (i.e. Reese’s). The label names are chosen carefully for consumers to easily recognize the products we want to purchase. The “Hershey’s” label will tell us that we are looking at a bar of plain chocolate, and might have a sub-description of nuts or caramel inside. The “Reese’s” label automatically signals to consumers that there is peanut butter complementing chocolate. “York” is a familiar label to consumers that signifies minty flavor in chocolate (hersheyindia).

The products from CVS have important descriptions that set them apart from the products at Cardullo’s. There were a few products made with dark chocolate, but most of the products sold at CVS were made with milk chocolate. The most popular CVS product was a tie between Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher – all six tasters liked the two products equally. Four out of six tasters especially liked the chocolate center of the truffles. The Toblerone sample was described by four out of six tasters as “better than Hershey’s.” Three out of six tasters did not care for the Brookside product, two tasters thought the product was “okay,” and one taster loved the Brookside product so much that it won CVS over as her favorite store of the two for buying chocolate. Fun fact: Hershey acquired Brookside in 2011 (Schroeder). Hershey’s milk chocolate was the least popular CVS product, and Cadbury’s milk chocolate was described by every taster as “better than Hershey’s,” while Cadbury’s still was not the most popular CVS product.

Most of the products were neatly arranged by brand on the candy aisle. The rest of the products could be found on the end cap of the candy aisle on the side furthest away from the registers. The products on the end cap are known as the “deluxe chocolates.” The Deluxe brands included, but were not limited to Lindt and Chuao. Recall that I bought my Chuao potato chip milk chocolate at Cardullo’s. I had gone shopping at Cardullo’s before shopping at CVS, and was surprised to find the same type of Chuao bar in the Deluxe section of CVS. The Chuao bar was more hidden than the easily seen Cardullo’s Chuao bar, and it was two dollars cheaper at CVS. Perhaps, the Deluxe chocolates at CVS are placed so that the adventurous customers who already know about the products will know where to find them. The specific placement of products could be CVS’s precaution against scaring away most of their customers with expensive, daring flavors of chocolate as the first available chocolate snack.

Cardullo’s confections are meant to cater to people with more sophisticated tastes regarding confections. More specifically, Cardullo’s employees pointed out that the shoppe targets Europeans (and a few other ethnicities) who grew up with their featured products that are hard to find outside of their countries. The store manager of Cardullo’s herself explained that Cardullo’s products are special because they invoke a strong feeling of nostalgia among visitors/immigrants from various countries. You can find a wall stocked with Cadbury products, and Cadbury is one of the few iconic chocolate brands featured in the entire store. There is no chance of finding any products from Hershey when shopping at Cardullo’s. The American products featured at Cardullo’s tend to have avant-garde flavors. For example, Cardullo’s features Vosges, a Chicago based chocolate company. One of Vosges products at Cardullo’s is a chocolate bacon bar. What a combination!

Cardullo's Front
Classy-looking photo of the front of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Harvard Square at Cambridge, Massachusetts (Yelp).

As preferred by five out of six tasters, Cardullo’s was the most popular of the two stores for chocolate shopping. The opportunity to taste new flavors of chocolate was a little intimidating, yet exciting to each of my chocolate tasters. Chloé, the chocolate connoisseur featured in Raising the Bar, voices her concern for a general lack of appreciation for chocolate variety, “[c]onsumers can be fickle and even dismissive when it comes to matters of taste… (Raising 147)”. The tasters were enthralled by the Vivra dark with violets, and this product was enjoyed by everyone that could try it. Four out of six people did not care for the Chuao potato chip chocolate, but the two other tasters enjoyed the sweet and salty combination within it. Niederegger’s marzipan milk chocolate was described by three tasters as “too sweet.” The other three tasters liked the marzipan milk chocolate, especially the consistency of the marzipan. When biting into the Truffettes milk chocolate covered marshmallows three tasters experienced them as “too chewy.” The other three tasters enjoyed the consistency of the marshmallow. Five tasters could try Taza’s Guajillo chili. Four tasters did not care for the guajillo chili infusion with the dark chocolate. One taster said that the Taza sample with guajillo chili was “awesome stuff!”

I would especially like to highlight the presence of Taza products at Cardullo’s. Taza is one of the few American chocolate companies with products for sale at Cardullo’s, and they happen to operate locally in Somerville, Massachusetts. What is special about Taza in comparison to many other American products is that the workers of Taza are interested in traditional, authentic Mexican chocolate-making methods. With a high demand in place for their products, Taza has had to find means of efficient production that would still allow for the presence of a Mexican quality surrounding the chocolate. By producing solid chocolate bars, Taza is aware that consumers are seeking a snack with traditional Mexican flavors, rather than traditional Mexican beverages. Taza’s YouTube channel serves as an efficient tool to connect with their customers on a more personal level than relying only on their website and word of mouth to deliver information to consumers. Taza wants its consumers to remember that there is still care involved with Taza’s chocolate making process, as their YouTube page’s introductory paragraph states that, “we hand-carve granite millstones to grind cacao… (TazaChocolate)”. The introductory video on their YouTube channel is an invitation for all who would like to catch a glimpse of the chocolate making process inside the factory:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU&feature=youtu.be

It is exciting to learn a little bit about another culture’s specific methods for creating products that are so similar, yet so different from what we are usually exposed to.

Truffette's
Truffette’s label for chocolate covered marshmallows is quick to flaunt its French origin. The photo of the confection looks so tempting by featuring a delicious marshmallow covered in smooth, creamy chocolate. The elegant, French words along with the Eiffel tower momentarily remind us of the culture-rich city of Paris, and it is almost as if we are tasting the confection while in France. However, what consumers do not immediately realize is that, as pointed out by Susan J. Terrio, “France itself is not a country historically famous for its luxury chocolates (Terrio 10)”. Perhaps, with the recent European involvement in chocolate, this product is an example of a French confectioner’s take on perfecting a use for solid chocolate. Members of newer generations from France would immediately recognize Truffette’s upon finding their products at Cardullo’s.

It is worth noting that every person has unique preferences for chocolate products, among all other products. There are people who prefer CVS products over Cardullo’s products, as astounding as it may sound to the people who appreciate variance in chocolate. Some people may enjoy every chocolate product presented to them, while others may only accept milk chocolate. Allergies to common foods such as nuts will skew a person’s preferences, because they must work around their health concerns when determining their favorite flavors to have with chocolate. The confections we looked at for this project demonstrate the many creative and culture-specific ideas that so many talented confectioners have cooked up since chocolate became more available around the world. Perhaps, if my tasters were all chocolate connoisseurs that my research would have yielded different results about chocolate preferences.

Works Cited

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13.3(2013): 22-31. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 6 May 2017. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2013.13.3.22&gt;.

Schroeder, Eric. “Hershey to Buy Brookside Foods.” Food Business News. Sosland PublishingCo., 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 May 2017. <http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/News/NewsHome/Business News/2011/12/Hershey to buy Brookside Foods.aspx?cck>.

Slide-img20.jpeg. N.d. Hersheyindia.com. Web. 6 May 2017.

Stuckey, Barb. “What Are You Missing?” Introduction. Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Getting More from Every Bite. New York: Free, 2012. 1-29. Print.

TazaChocolate. “Taza Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017.<https://www.youtube.com/user/TazaChocolate&gt;.

TazaChocolate. “The Taza Chocolate Story.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 May 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tcA51tUOxU&feature=youtu.be&gt;.

Terrio, Susan J. “People Without History.” Introduction. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. London, England: U of California, 2000. 1-22. Print.

TRUFFETTES DE FRANCE MARSHMALLOWS MILK CHOCOLATE. Digitalimage.Redstonefoods.com. Redstone Foods, n.d. Web. 8 May 2017.<http://redstonefoods.com/products/712331–truffettes-de-france-marshmallows-milk-chocolate&gt;.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. “To Market, To Market: Craftsmanship, Customer Education, and Flavor.” Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. 143-209. Print.

V, Sonam. Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe. 2005. Yelp.com, Cambridge, MA. Yelp.com. Web. 10 May 2017. <https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/cardullos-gourmet-shoppe-cambridge?select=-Cg_WKg2ExKzcEgzCuyLzQ&gt;.

Gallery Walk: Chocolate, Gender, and Industrialization

Art is closely tied to the culture of a society. Studying changes and patterns in symbolism and representations over time can provide clues to shifting norms and cultural expectations in society. By studying the path of chocolate through art history, we can better understand the shifting associations between chocolate and gender.

Chocolate has been intimately tied to gender since its origins in ancient Mesoamerica. As chocolate spread to new cultures and new continents, practices surrounding the production, serving, and consumption of chocolate changed to reflect the sometimes strict, sometimes contradictory gender norms of these new cultures.

Ancient Mesoamerica: women and production

PrincetonVase   Woman prepares chocolate - Codex Tudela

The women above – on the left, from a Mayan vase ca. 750 CE, and on the right, from the Aztec Codex Tudela ca. 1500 CE – are each pouring chocolate from one vessel to another, a key step in the preparation of ancient Mesoamerican chocolate beverages. The images below illustrate the somewhat different relationship of deities to chocolate.

743_05_2 atztecs_scene_in_royal_palace_with_pod_filled_with_cocoa_mixture_lioa_651x468

On the left, from the Dresden Codex, the rain god holds a bowl of cacao in his hands, presumably for consumption; on the right, a high-ranking Mayan man seated on a platform is inspecting a pot containing a frothed cacao beverage – again, he appears to be preparing to drink the chocolate. Though we have access today to only a fraction of the images of chocolate created in the first several hundred years of its consumption, the images that we do have draw a compelling distinction between the relationship of men and women to chocolate.  Women produced chocolate, and men consumed it. Aztec and Maya texts, as well as the writings of the European colonists who settled in Mesoamerica, indicate that these earliest consumers of chocolate were well aware of its stimulating effect (Coe and Coe). In Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was expressly limited to nobles, merchants, and warriors – all, for the most part, male (Coe and Coe). The roles of women in Mesoamerican society were far more restricted – women were primarily involved in the domestic sphere – and far less physically active, meaning they lost the privilege of drinking chocolate.

Chocolate houses, European men, and chaos

By the early 17th century, cacao had officially arrived in Europe. It was first drunk only by royalty, but quickly spread – especially in England – to the masses, aided by the class-defying appeal of London’s coffeehouses (Calhoun). William Hogarth’s engraving, below, shows a raucous crowd of men at White’s Chocolate House, many gambling, smoking, or stabbing at the air with swords.

rp6

A somewhat tamer scene is depicted below; again, though, men have come together in great numbers to consume chocolate.

interior-of-early-c18th-cho

Coffee houses and chocolate houses were generally a space from which women were excluded. There is historical disagreement about whether women were forbidden from frequenting these spaces by decree, as Bramah claims, or merely made unwelcome, as Cowan argues; whatever the means of exclusion, the visual record confirms that chocolate houses were a gendered space. Women were only present in chocolate houses as owners or employees. (Calhoun). A deeper cultural gender divide is clear when we consider the conversations that generally took place in coffeehouses and chocolate houses: historians often acknowledge the role of these spaces in disseminating the intellectual ideals of the Age of Enlightenment to the public sphere (Calhoun). The absence of women from this important sphere where culture and politics were discussed, debated, and shaped reveals the lack of autonomy given to women to change their position in society.

Wealthy women, working women

European women may have been excluded from A Lady Pouring Chocolate by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744)chocolate houses, but they certainly were not excluded from consuming chocolate.

For the first time in our visual journey, female consumption is central. Men certainly continued to consume chocolate, but women appear far more frequently in paintings of domestic consumption. The paintings to the right and below are from the mid-18th century. All the women pictured are upper-class: their clothing and surroundings clearly demonstrate wealth, and the paintings appear to be posed – typical of portraiture in the period, but also an indicator of wealth, as only the elite could afford to commission portraits.

La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthièvre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg

rev586551-oriWealthy men tend only to appear as consumers of chocolate when a woman is at the center of the painting, as in the Penthièvre family portrait above and Longhi’s painting to the left, where men literally surround a woman reclining in a tulle dress.

Women were painted with chocolate to demonstrate their wealth. Chocolate was a less powerful symbol of wealth for men: men had always been allowed to consume chocolate, and so a painting of a man drinking it was unsurprising.

While wealthy women began to be depicted as consumers, servants and lower-class women were still confined to the production and serving of chocolate. The painting below inspired advertising campaigns for both Droste and Baker’s chocolate.

jean-etienne_liotard_-_the_chocolate_girl_-_google_art_project  Droste  800px-BakersCocoa.JPG

For many middle-class women, the packaging on cocoa powder was the closest interaction they would have with chocolate and art.

Non-elite women did consume chocolate, and were often depicted consuming it, especially by the Impressionists. Renoir painted three portraits, each titled “The Cup of Chocolate,” in rapid succession around the turn of the 20th century.

the-cup-of-chocolate-1878blog

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Globalization and new gender roles

Though women of lower social status were now able to consume chocolate, they were also responsible for preparing it and serving it. The massive shifts in production that came with global industrialization meant that society became strictly stratified, and gender roles were not necessarily consistent across the strata.

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In fact, images of men preparing and serving chocolate – traditionally a responsibility reserved 37-3761-9cvzf00zfor women – begin to appear around this time, especially in advertisements (such as the Fry’s chocolate advertisement above, where a man working at a drugstore is selling chocolate) and shop signs (the chocolatier sign depicts a man stirring a pot of chocolate).

Domestic food preparation was an almost entirely female arena in ancient Mesoamerica; surviving Mayan and Aztec art depicts women preparing chocolate and men preparing to consume it. Industrialization led to the increased stratification of European society, and brought new gender roles for the elite and for the working class. Wealthy women were no longer responsible for preparing food: they had servants to cook for them. The woman’s role in domestic management was displaced by the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Meanwhile, the globalization of food and food production meant that more men became responsible for food production somewhere along the supply line: harvesting cacao, grinding and conching and pressing chocolate, and handling the financial side of large chocolate businesses were all primarily male occupations.

Food production, for a large part of human history, took place almost exclusively within the home. Industrialization shifted production outside of the home, and created stratified gender roles. Art provides clues to the changing structure of human societies by giving us a glimpse of the prototypical figures of men and women over time. Continued consideration of how accurate a picture those glimpses paint is crucial – not all members of society are portrayed in art, and not all the images we see are accurate portrayals.

Images

Peck, D. G. (1973) Drawing of a detail from the Princeton Vase. Published in Michael Coe’s The Maya Scribe and His World (1973). Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2014/maya-drinking-cup.

The Princeton Vase: Artist unknown, of Late Classic Maya origins (A.D. 670-750). Princeton Vase. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum.

Image of Aztec woman pouring chocolate. Artist unknown (16th century). Codex Tudela. Madrid: Museo de América. Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_Tudela.jpg

Image of Rain God and Opossum God: Artist unknown (ca. 12th century). Dresden Codex Maya Hieroglyphic Text of Almanac: 25-28. Image courtesy of The Maya Codices Database, Version 4.1. Source: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-money.

Image of Mayan inspecting chocolate beverage. Artist unknown (15th century). Image source: http://www.lindt.com/noswf/ger/world-of-lindt/lindt-history/swiss-chocolate-pioneers-in-the-19th-century.

William Hogarth (1697-1764). The Rake’s Progress, Plate VI “Gaming House Scene,” engraved by W. Radclyffe. Source: Complete Works, facing p. 98. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Image source: http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/18c/hogarth/rp6.html

Image of 17th-century London Chocolate House. Artist unknown (date unknown). Image source: http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2013/12/10/london-chocolate-festival-take-a-choco-tour-of-london.

Liotard, J. E. (1744). A Lady Pouring Chocolate. London: National Gallery. Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liotard-Lady_Pouring_Chocolate.jpg.

Charpentier, J. B. (1768). La famille du duc de Penthièvre (“La Tasse de Chocolat”). Versailles: Musée National du Château. Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg.

Longhi, P. (1774-1780). La cioccolata di mattino. Venice: Ca ‘Rezzonico. Image source: http://www.exibart.com/profilo/eventiV2.asp?idelemento=58655

Liotard, J. E. (1743-44). La Belle Chocolatière. Dresden: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chocolate_Girl#/media/File:Jean-Etienne_Liotard_-_The_Chocolate_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Musset, J. (ca. 1900). Droste cocoa packaging. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droste.

Baker’s Cocoa (1919). Baker’s Cocoa Advertisement in Overland Monthly, January 1919. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Baker_%26_Company.

Renoir, P. A. (1878). The cup of chocolate. Private collection. Image source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/pierre-auguste-renoir/the-cup-of-chocolate-1878.

Renoir, P. A. (1912). Cup of chocolate (Femme prenant du chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source: http://www.barnesfoundation.org/collections/art-collection/object/7007/cup-of-chocolate-femme-prenant-du-chocolat.

Renoir, P. A. (1914). Cup of chocolate (La tasse de chocolat). Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation. Image source: http://www.barnesfoundation.org/collections/art-collection/object/5068/cup-of-chocolate-la-tasse-de-chocolat.

J.S. Fry & Sons, Ltd. (ca. 1900). Advertisement for Fry’s Chocolates. Image source: http://digital.lib.muohio.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tradecards/id/1559

Borrari, O. (Date unknown). Sign of Milanese Shop. Gallery unknown. Image source: http://www.paintingsoncanvas.net/print-98538-6009700/sign-milanese-shop-other.

Caraud, J. (1872). Sharing the Chocolate [Painting]. Gallery unknown. Image source: https://www.papillonclub.org/History/PhotoGallery-OldMasters-C-Sharing-the-Chocolate.html

Works Cited

Bramah, E. (1972). Tea and Coffee: A Modern View of Three Hundred Years of Tradition. Tiptree, Essex: Hutchinson & Co, Ltd.

Calhoun, B. (2012). “Shaping the Public Sphere: English Coffeehouses and French Salons and the Age of the Enlightenment,” Colgate Academic Review 3: 7. Accessed: http://commons.colgate.edu/car/vol3/iss1/7

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (1996). The true history of chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Colmenero, A. (1652). Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke. First printing, London: J.G. for John Dakins. Wadsworth, J. (translator). Accessed: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/21271/21271-h/21271-h.htm

Cowan, B. W. (2001). “What Was Masculine about the Public Sphere? Gender and the Coffeehouse Milieu in Post-Restoration England.” History Workshop Journal 51: 127–157.